The Anniston Star

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August 27, 2014

Local, federal authorities working to reduce gun crimes

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Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014 4:59 pm | Updated: 3:30 pm, Fri Jun 20, 2014.

An Anniston man is set to appear in court on July 24 to answer to charges related to allegedly shooting into an occupied vehicle.

Jaquavious Akeem Weathers was arrested Feb. 7, charged with attempted murder and discharging into an occupied vehicle. According to a grand jury indictment, Weathers on Feb. 1  shot into  a 2005 Chevrolet Malibu occupied by Alexis Mercedes McRath and Matthew Williams.

Weathers’ case is one of dozens of local reports of crimes involving guns, all of which put the public in jeopardy, local law enforcement officials say.

Between May 2013 and May 2014 Anniston police recorded 38 reports of discharging a firearm into an occupied or unoccupied vehicle or building, according to figures provided by the Police Department.

The department recorded 63 such crimes between May 2012 and May 2013, a spike in violence that Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh said troubled local law enforcement agencies.

“It was a particularly violent year, all around,” McVeigh said.

The number of people in Calhoun County charged with shooting into occupied or unoccupied buildings and vehicles spiked in 2012 as well.

McVeigh said his office charged 32 people with such crimes in 2012. In 2009 there were 14 suspects charged with such crimes, 15 in 2010 and 14 in 2011. Last year 13 suspects were charged, McVeigh said. So far this year three suspects have been charged, McVeigh said.

The majority of those charged were convicted, McVeigh said, and the average prison sentence was around 10 years. That’s not an uncommon sentence for crimes involving guns, he said.

Oxford police recorded three reports in 2012 of people discharging firearms into occupied and unoccupied building and vehicles, said Oxford police Capt. L.G. Owens. The department has recorded three such crimes so far this year, Owens said.

McVeigh said that while there may have been many reasons for the rise in reports of violence in Calhoun County in 2012, it could also have partially stemmed from turf disputes between groups of drug dealers.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Anniston in 2012 had the second highest rate of reported violent crimes among Alabama cities with populations over 20,000. The FBI defines violent crimes as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Anniston recorded 504 such crimes in 2012, which was 21.8 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. That’s a 23 percent increase from 2011.

Birmingham ranked third in 2012 with 15 violent crimes per 1,000 residents. The coastal city of Prichard led the state that year with 23 such crimes per 1,000 residents.

The rise in gun violence in 2012 was troubling enough for local law enforcement agencies to ask for federal help in curbing the crimes.

In May of 2013, McVeigh and other Calhoun County leaders asked U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance of Birmingham to help find a way to stop gun crimes in and around Anniston.

The product of those discussions was the creation of an anonymous hotline through which residents who see violent crimes involving firearms can report them by calling  205-254-7777.

Local law enforcement officials say federal agencies will investigate many of the crimes reported through the hotline. That could mean offenders will receive federal charges, which carry stiffer penalties.

The hotline is beginning to produce results, according to Michael Knight, a public information officer with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Knight said by phone Thursday that the ATF is investigating “ongoing cases” in the Anniston area as a result of the hotline.

The types of investigations being conducted range from stolen firearms, firearms used in the commission of a crime as well as the recovery of firearms and shell casings, Knight wrote in an email to The Star.

He said ATF agents will track the origins of any guns recovered in the investigations, which could assist area law enforcement agencies in solving local crimes.  

“Luckily, things have gotten better,” McVeigh said, speaking of a drop in the number of gun crimes this year. “But I don’t think that’s directly attributable to anything in particular.”

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